Developed by several members of the design team responsible for Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Activision's Call of Duty is a first-person shooter set amidst the chaos and turmoil of World War II. Players begin the game as an infantryman armed with a pistol and grenades, with additional weapons in the form of rifles, machine guns, and bazookas earned during their tour of duty. A total of 24 missions are available, spread across three separate campaigns. Players will experience the war through American, British, and Russian points of view, allowing them to step into the roles of three soldiers on the front lines who must endure three different operations. Vehicles such as tanks, jeeps, and more can also be commandeered for the war effort.
From the American perspective, players will take part in the events leading to the D-Day Invasion after first being dropped behind enemy lines. The British campaign involves the assault on Pegasus Bridge, while the Battle of Stalingrad serves as the backdrop for the Russian storyline. The one constant in each campaign is that players will not be alone in their missions, becoming part of a squad that fights together as a team, providing cover fire, dragging wounded comrades to safety, sabotaging key installations, and offering each other support. Battles will take place within towns, forests, POW camps, and more, with mortar fire, enemy snipers, and other hazards lurking at every corner. Call of Duty uses an enhanced version of the Quake III engine, previously implemented in Activision's own Return to Castle Wolfenstein.
Call of Duty is a brilliant action game from beginning to end, and is packed with so many amazing moments that it's my leading candidate for the best PC game of 2003, and there's a good argument to be made that's it's the best WWII shooter ever.
Call of Duty is the first product from developer Infinity Ward. If you've been following development of the title, you already know that that most of the team came from 2015, where they developed 2002's stellar Medal of Honor: Allied Assault for EA. That game, more than any before it, used lots of scripting, cinematic presentation, epic battles and amazing sound effects to make you feel like you were inside a WWII movie. As you might expect, there are a lot of similarities between the two titles, and yet Call of Duty manages to one-up Allied Assault at almost every turn.
The game is split into three Allied campaigns: American, British and Russian. Each of these parallel campaigns starts around D-Day and continues through Europe until the fall of Berlin in 1945. In each campaign, you assume the role of a particular grunt, but you're almost always surrounded by friendly soldiers fighting alongside you. Sometimes you're working with a small squad fighting your way across the countryside; other times you're just one face in a huge army swarming across a battlefield, making good on the game's tagline: "No Man Fights Alone."
These epic missions, more than anything else, are what sets Call of Duty apart from just about any other game out today. Where Allied Assault had the stellar "Omaha Beach" mission, Call of Duty is jam packed with incredible set pieces, each more unforgettable than the next. For example, the British campaign opens with two frantic missions set at Pegasus Bridge, a huge outdoor area that you'll try to defend using everything at your disposal -- your weapons, your squad, mounted guns and even a flak cannon capable of destroying incoming tanks.
The Russian campaign opens with two similarly memorable missions. In "Stalingrad," you don't even pick up a gun -- you get to act as bait, diving from cover to cover as buildings come crashing down around you, and you'll find yourself replaying the mission just to get a good look at everything happening across the level. You finally get to bear arms in "Red Square," which offers a stirring scene as the Russians storm the famous landmark. Later, in "Pavlov's House," there's a nailbiter of a scene where you need to survive for five minutes as wave after wave of soldiers come flooding up the stairs of a crumbling building, enemy tanks demolishing the walls around you. Once you've finished all three campaigns, there are three great final missions (one for each country) that act as an epilogue to the campaigns.
What makes these missions work is that even though they're filled with scripted events, they almost always offer numerous routes to victory. I could spend pages offering strategies for the Pegasus Bridge missions -- you know certain things are going to happen at a certain time, but there are also things under your control, such as how far the Germans advance in certain areas or the protection of the precious flak cannon. Similarly, there are any number of ways to approach "Pavlov's House": if you're quick enough, you can take out the tanks before they reach your position, or you can hunker down and try and fight everyone off until Allied reinforcements arrive.
Call of Duty also offers a few more densely scripted missions, such as an American level where you're riding in a car, shooting Germans out the window and hanging on for dear life, or a similar truck ride in the British campaign where you're firing Panzerfausts at roadblocks and other enemies. These missions play out like something straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- they offer lots of split-second narrow escapes, and are dropped in just often enough to provide a welcome change of pace. Of course, you get to drive a tank during the Russian campaign, yet another memorable level in a game chock full of them them.
Technically, Call of Duty gets the job done. Built on a heavily modified Quake III / Return to Castle Wolfenstein codebase, it doesn't have true ragdoll physics, dynamic lighting or many of the next-generation features that we tend to "oooh" and "aaah" about, and we've certainly seen prettier games this year. None of that matters, however, once you've seen the game in motion.
Infinity Ward has done a great job coaxing new life into the Quake III engine, and Call of Duty has more than its fair share of breathtaking scenes and visuals. While the models look reminiscient of those from Allied Assault, the animations do a great job of bringing your fellow soldiers to life. There's a great "shellshock" effect that I experienced maybe half a dozen times through the game when caught near a big explosion -- your player falls to the ground, the graphics blur, and the sound cuts and eventually fades back in after a few seconds.
Aided by the solid tech, Call of Duty boasts an excellent combat model. It's never easy to make weapons "feel" right in a shooter, but everything here feels solid and tight. I've always used the right mouse button to jump going as far back as Quake II, but for Call of Duty, I've changed my config for the first time, thanks to the ability to look down the sight ("LDS") of any weapon for increased accuracy. In the later missions, sniping is an absolute joy -- you'll swerve in your seat as your soldier runs from cover to cover, diving to the ground, peeking out around corners and firing off headshots with pinpoint accuracy.
The weapons are brought to life by some fantastic sound effects, from the "ding" of the Garand to the sound of a sniper's bullet echoing across canyons. I realize force-feedback mice haven't caught on yet, but with the sound cranked up, you can feel the game crack and rumble with every shot, which really helps you feel connected to the action. There's some brief but adequate voice work from Giovanni Ribisi (Lost in Translation, Saving Private Ryan) and Jason Statham (The Transporter, Snatch) in the American and British campaigns, respectively, and there's also a sparse orchestral score that's effectively introduced to stir emotions at key moments.
All this could easily have fallen apart, because Call of Duty certainly doesn't have the greatest AI in the world. Sure, enemies can do basic things like duck for cover or peek out and shoot, but just as often, they'll also rush forward mindlessly or stand out in the open, daring you to shoot them. You're never fooled into thinking that the enemies are that smart (I can only remember a handful of times that they tried to flush me out using grenades), and if the game consisted of 6-8 hours of mindless run-and-shoot, it simply wouldn't be that much fun.
Instead, Call of Duty succeeds the same way Allied Assault did: with lots of AI scripting, excellent enemy placement, and an effective combat model that simply does not allow you to run around unchecked in the open. I can't remember the last game I played where I had to duck and go prone so often simply to get out of the line of fire, and it's not because the enemies have superhuman aim; it's because they're where they're supposed to be. Your enemies may not be rocket scientists, but you'll need to think on your feet, plotting strategies and looking for the best way to attack a given situation, because running straight ahead will only get you cut down in seconds. Want to try to take on a dozen Germans all by yourself? You might want to consider softening them up from afar with your sniper rifle and a few well-placed grenades first. There are a few tough sequences and you'll need to engage in a bit of quicksaves and reloading (nothing anywhere near as rough as MOHAA's "Snipertown," thankfully), but it never reaches the point where it takes away from the fun.
We've seen it in Halo and it's present here: no key hunts, no jumping puzzles, no unforgiving stealth sequences or end-level bosses -- instead, the "puzzles" in Call of Duty lie solely in your ability to size up a situation, plan out a strategy and then pull it off. It may sound high-falootin' to say, but these sequences engage your mind as well as your reflexes, and it's the best innovation to hit shooters in years.
It's worth mentioning that Call of Duty isn't the longest game ever made; in fact, I blazed through the entire single-player campaign in about 7 hours. Gamers often obsess about game lengths, but I think this trend -- sacrificing length in favor of superior content -- is a good one, and you'll hardly feel shortchanged at the end. Almost every one of Call of Duty's 24 missions is a keeper, and I'd rather have polished, densely-packed games like this instead of 12-hour titles artificially padded with uninspired gameplay. Call of Duty manages to remain interesting from beginning to end, and (as I mentioned in the opening) the missions are so much fun to play that I can't wait to run through the entire thing again.
If you're concerned that length might be an issue, it doesn't hurt that Call of Duty features some excellent multiplayer support. At its roots, it's not much different from what was in Allied Assault -- for basic deathmatch, you can carry around one main weapon at a time and choose something new before each respawn (or loot the bodies of other players). However, Infinity Ward (what does that name mean, anyway?) has made a few minor additions that give Call of Duty multiplayer a distinct flavor.
The first is the new "Killcam," a godsend to anyone who's ever been sniped 6 times in a row and wondered "Where the &#*@ did that shot come from!?!" After you've been killed in action, the camera briefly replays the last few seconds from your opponent's point of view, so you can see exactly where he's camping out and how he killed you. If nothing else, it's an awesome tool for learning map strategies and will keep snipers on their toes.
Aside from deathmatch and team DM, there's a "Search and Destroy" mode that's essentially a WWII version of Counter-Strike. Played out in a round-based last-man-standing format, one team tries to accomplish an objective (such as blowing up a flak gun), while the other team tries to protect it. "Behind Enemy Lines" is a variation of "Tag," where a majority of Axis hunt down a minority of Allies; upon killing one of the Allies, you become one yourself, and gain bonus points for staying alive. The last mode, called "Retrieval," is best described as one-flag CTF, where one team needs to steal an item and return it to their base.
Most of these modes are enjoyable to play, mainly because the weapons, the basic combat model, the tech and the maps are all solid. All eleven multiplayer maps are variations of single-player missions tweaked for multiplayer and offer a variety of strategies; our team games have been a blast. There's nothing here as deep as Return to Castle Wolfenstein or Enemy Territory's class-based objective-based modes, and it's not a Battlefield killer by any stretch, but it's not hard to see both Allied Assault and Counter-Strike fans finding something to enjoy here.
The Final Word
Call of Duty is more than just an action game; it's an intense, finely tuned thrill ride that will have you ducking in your chair and clutching your mouse until your knuckles turn white. It feels as if Infinity Ward looked at Allied Assault, said "we can do this better," and then went out and did it.
WWII shooters are a dime a dozen these days, but the truth is that Call of Duty could be reskinned for the Middle East or a sci-fi epic and it would still be a great game -- the engine is solid, the combat is great and the presentation is top-notch. If you're interested in action games at all, you owe it to yourself to download a copy of this epic and fire it up the second you can.
People who downloaded Call of Duty have also downloaded:
Call of Duty 2, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Battlefield 1942, Halo: Combat Evolved, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, Battlefield Vietnam, Battlefield 2, Return to Castle Wolfenstein
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